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Statue's damage is worse than feared

Harsh winter took additional toll on structure

Fencing has been put up around Black Hawk statue at Lowden State Park in Oregon in 
preparation of restoration work that could begin summer.
Fencing has been put up around Black Hawk statue at Lowden State Park in Oregon in preparation of restoration work that could begin summer.

OREGON – Repairs for Ogle County’s best known statue can’t begin soon enough.

Sterling resident Frank Rausa, who is leading the effort to repair the 103-year-old figure, said Tuesday that testing last fall and this spring shows that the Black Hawk statue is in worse shape than was originally feared.

“With all the testing that we did we found the damage is a lot worse than we thought,” he said. “We are hopeful that we will get started [with repair work] this summer.”

Orange fencing went up early this week around the base of the concrete statue that overlooks the Rock River at Lowden State Park.

The fence, Rausa said, is there partly to protect visitors in case pieces of the statue fall.

He said the extent of the damage and the plan for repairs and restoration will be outlined soon in a news conference.

Time and weather have caused cracks in the structure and large pieces of its concrete surface have dislodged.

The folded arms of the 50-foot monolith have been especially affected. Large chunks have fallen from the elbow of the right arm and from underneath the left arm.

A team of experts spent nearly a week in October examining the damage and performing tests. Engineers used high-tech scanners, which allowed them to see inside the concrete to assess its condition and determine the amount and location of steel reinforcing.

The locations of the steel were marked on tape placed on the statue’s hollow interior.

Another crew scanned the statue with rotating lasers to create a 3-D model of the statue.

The testing, which included ground-penetrating radar work and ultrasonic tomography, was finished Oct. 11.

The experts returned in April to take more samples. What they discovered was not good, Rausa said.

Directly below the folded arms of the statue, the external finishing coat of concrete – its outer surface – had separated 2 inches from the inner surface.

In fact, it was too fragile to do some of the planned tests, Rausa said.

“The damage that has taken place in the past year is extensive,” he said.

The cold and snow last winter took an additional toll. The experts saw significant changes in the statue’s condition from October to April, Rausa said.

Created by sculptor Lorado Taft in 1911 as a tribute to all Native Americans and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the statue stands on a 125-foot bluff. It draws thousands of visitors each year. It is under the jurisdiction of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR).

Rausa is a member of the Friends of the Black Hawk Statue, an organization that has been working to secure funding for repairs. Ironically, he said, federal grants for restoration projects dried up about the time the statue was approved for the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.

Rausa said earlier this year that the price tag for the study and repairs had risen to $700,000 and could go higher.

More than half the money already raised for the project came from a $350,000 grant the IDNR received from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

The rest came from donations, and funds raised during the annual Oregon Trail Days festival at Lowden Park since 2010.

A large contributor was the Jeffris Family Foundation, of Janesville, Wis., which gave a $150,000 matching grant.

The Chicago Blackhawks hockey team recently got on board with what Rausa said is a sizable donation, although he declined to say how much.

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